Cuba Culture

Tropicana nightclub in Havana switching rhythms

Posted November 02, 2004 by publisher in Cuba Culture.


Tall as Amazons and oozing seduction, Cuban women picked for their beauty and stature slither across the stage, wearing elaborate headdresses and little else.

Dancers at Havana’s world-famous Tropicana cabaret take a break in their 12-hour workday. JOSE GOITIA/AP

Singers, acrobats and dancers perform, too, but dazzling showgirls are the main attraction of the revue that has lured hundreds of tourists nightly to the world-renowned Tropicana nightclub for the past nine years—indeed, flesh has been the biggest draw throughout the 65-year history of the storied outdoor cabaret.

‘‘People associate the Tropicana with showgirls . . . who are beautiful, well-endowed and sensual,’’ said the nightclub’s spokesman, Juan Carlos Aguilar.


Yet now the Tropicana is closing the show enjoyed by foreigners since the communist government began courting tourists in the 1990s. It will be replaced with Tambores en Concierto (“Drums in Concert’‘), a spectacle with a more coherent story line that—while retaining the spirit of Cuban sensuality—will drop some of the more gratuitous skin-baring.

‘‘It’s time to make some changes,’’ said Tomas Morales, a dancer, choreographer and director who is the creator of the new show that will take the stage next April.

Santiago Alfonso Fernández, creator of the outgoing revue, Tropicana: La Gloria Eres Tu (Tropicana: You Are Heaven), agrees that the nightclub’s longest-running show must finally come to an end.

The new spectacle will keep a live ensemble of Cuban musicians on one part of the multitiered stage, along with acrobats and some showgirls. And the royal palm, bamboo and fruit trees that canopy the Tropicana stage still will provide ‘‘a breath of exoticism,’’ said Aguilar, the club spokesman.

But the similarities end there.

Tambores en Concierto will be more theatrical, with increased emphasis on stage sets and technology, Morales said.


The new show revolves around a male dancer who emerges from a drum to become ‘‘the drum’s ghost,’’ Morales said. The character then guides the audience through different music and dance acts, ‘‘taking you to the roots of Cuba,’’ he said.

Reinvention is not new to the Tropicana.

In the 1940s and ‘50s, American tourists frequented the club, which was known for its casinos, all-night partying and visiting international stars such Liberace, Nat King Cole and Carmen Miranda. The Tropicana even sent charter flights, with dancers and musicians aboard, to collect tourists in Miami.

Chevys were raffled off on stage. The spectacular revues, changed every two months, included circus acts, Vodou-inspired shows—even live cockfights.

But Fidel Castro’s 1959 revolution squelched the capitalist revelry. The casinos disappeared, as did the American mobsters who had a stake in them. A drop in the money coming in meant less extravagant shows and fewer performers from abroad.

In 1968, the government closed the Tropicana and all other Cuban cabarets.

‘‘It wasn’t clear whether [the cabaret] should continue as a product within the life we were leading after the revolution, or if it was an element too tied to the decadence of a class that no longer dominated the country,’’ Aguilar said.

‘‘Eventually the idea that it was a cultural product won out,’’ he said.

In 1970, the Tropicana reopened. But without American tourists, the shows catered to Cuban audiences, incorporating Spanish dialogue and more theatrical acts. Late-night performances lasted until dawn.

‘‘We Cubans like to party all night,’’ said Fernando Valdes, who joined the dance company in 1974. Valdes now directs the Tropicana school for cabaret performers and is helping choreograph Tambores en Concierto.

By the 1980s, travelers began trickling into Cuba and, after the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, the government embraced tourism as a way to replenish income lost when Soviet support ended.

Every night now, 300 to 600 guests—mostly foreigners—fill the Tropicana.

Tickets ranging from $65 to $85 are too expensive for most Cubans, whose wages average less than $20 a month. But dozens of Cubans artists and politically active youths are invited to the show each night at a much reduced rate, Aguilar said.

‘‘You can tell there are Cubans because they’re the ones who get up and dance after the show’s over,’’ he added.

Member Comments

On November 06, 2004, daryl wrote:

I think this is a bad mistake on Cuban tourism . The Tropicana is an example of Cuban history and culture. To remove it is to try and change what really was Cuba.

On November 06, 2004, Songuacassal wrote:

Though I like the idea of “The drums ghost,” and am eager to see it. I agree with daryl. An educational show is great for the side, pero you can’t only teach culture. You have to live culture. Y matando la Tropicana es como matando una vena de cultura. When an aspect of culture becomes education it becomes less of a life and more of a history lesson. Can’t Cuba keep both?

On November 15, 2006, singawalai wrote:

is there an age limit into the tropicana?

On November 16, 2006, publisher wrote:

Good question. I don’t think children would be allowed but I think the drinking age is low in Cuba, maybe 16?

On December 04, 2007, Hladyn Ivanna wrote:

Please, give the information how I can book the tickets for New Year on Tropicana show! I want to come to Cuba and to come on this show!Plaese, help me!!!!!!!

On December 04, 2007, manfredz wrote:

I believe min age is 16 or 17.
Also believe its big mistake to close it.  One of the things that tourists come to Havana or Varadero for is to go to the Havana Tropicana.  All tour operators operate their excursions with no Tropicana, a visit to Tropicana and a Havana overnighter including the Tropicana.  Don’t think whats described above will fill the void.  But if it happens, as long as they don’t touch the other two Tropicanas, the Varadero one (actually in Matanzas) or the Santiago de Cuba one, they’ll just become more popular.

On December 04, 2007, manfredz wrote:

A missing part of the article:

Associated Press

November 17, 2004

I mentioned it to a friend in Havana and he pointed out to me its old old news

On December 05, 2007, publisher wrote:

Thanks. This article was posted in 2004.

On December 05, 2007, manfredz wrote:

ooopsss… just noticed date on last comment.
btw, my havana buddy says the mentioned show is still running, and sicne the tropicana is as popular as ever, it must have gone over ok.